Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Almost Heathen

It was nearly 20 years ago that I was completely engrossed in a Tony Hillerman novel. I don’t remember which one, I was stationed overseas while serving in the military and was binge reading the entire series on my off time. I just remember that the key to the plot of that particular book was centered around the Kennewick Man, which was the name given to a prehistoric skeleton discovered on the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington.

This first struck a chord with me because only a few years earlier I had lived in that region, not too far from the area where the story was taking place. What struck me next was the antagonists of the story. Heathens. More specifically, Asatru, were described as a “tribe” of white people claiming an indigenous European heritage and practicing the indigenous pre-Christian religious traditions of their European ancestors.

The very thought of this bristled the hairs on the back of my neck and arms.

Being one of the millions of Caucasians who grew up being told they were part Native American, I followed that path reverently for more than 15 years, despite the repeated prejudice and bigotry I experienced. I made every effort to fit in; I learned the language(s), I was a ceremonial singer, dancer, and pipe-carrier; but I was not Indian. And no amount of piety was enough for the larger part of the community to accept me. Not even being married to a Lakota woman was enough to spare me from being sentenced to the Wannabe Tribe.
The internet was just starting to explode at the time and people were just beginning to realize its potential. Yahoo had just come out and we were just beginning to utilize the search engine as a means of exploring our interests. And that’s where I was headed when I put the book down, the internet café.

I Yahooed "Asatru" and my hair bristled again when the results came up. But when I clicked on the first site, images most associated with white supremacy filled the screen. I frantically clicked in a panic, trying to remove the images before someone behind me saw what I was looking at and assumed the worst about me.

I relocated to the computer in the corner and resumed my search, but every site I found included uncomfortable imagery. Which was terribly heartbreaking, because although I had read a few gems that really resonated with me, racism was an unconditional deal breaker. So I abandoned my search then and there, and with it any hope I had for an indigenous European path.

Years Later as a Pagan prison chaplain I would find myself facilitating religious accommodations for incarcerated Heathens which only served to confirm my concerns about racism in Heathenry. At least until the identity crisis prodded me into sabbatical and I picked up a book on Runes.

That book led to another, and another, and still another until I began to realize how deeply Heathenry resonated with me, and I began to think for the first time that I could embrace and practice Heathenry and still avoid the issue of racism.

After almost two years of solitary study and practice I dipped my toe in the water at an open to the public Heathen ritual held in a local park by someone I knew from my prison chaplaincy days. This led to another meetup, then another, and still another until I found myself being invited to join a Kindred.

It seemed as though the very moment I accepted that invitation whatever god is in charge of fucking with me said “here, hold my beer...” and a whole new cycle of Folkish vs. Universalist Racial conflict irrupted within the greater Heathen community. And there I was with a Mexican wife and son, and my Black Lesbian Jewish daughter, a member of a Folkish Kindred...  

However, in much the same way that I once explained that I was “Wiccan… but not like them” I was in a Kindred that said “yes, we’re Folkish… but we’re not racist.” Back when I was invited to join that Kindred I asked, most directly, if there was anything that Mexican wife and son, or my Black Lesbian Jewish daughter could not attend or would be made to feel unwelcome at. The answer was a firm and resounding “NO.”

The problem in terminology of however, still remains...

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